Actress friends Beth and Anna head away for a countryside weekend together to rekindle their flagging friendship. Unfortunately, the remote cabin becomes a psychological battleground of jealously, recrimination and frustrated ambition, where their relationship will come to an intense and irrevocable head.
After its initial pair of close-up monologues establishing the characters of its protagonists, Always Shine soon reveals itself as an engrossing study of the two women. Through their interactions, the story offers a subtle commentary on the way the film industry treats women: pretty faces to be used up and spat out, with their presence tolerated so long as they comport themselves in a pre-approved manner.
Beth is timid and introverted, and the more successful actress due to a willingness to perform regular nude scenes rather than any particular amount of natural talent. So conditioned to what is required of her, she disrobes without thinking during the opening scene’s casting session, with the sleazy producers only interested in ensuring she won’t argue with how long the part will require she spend naked. “You’re no use to us with your clothes on,” is the unspoken but abundantly clear implication.
Anna, meanwhile, is acerbic, outspoken and refuses to accept shit from anyone, which for an actress equates to a reputation for being ‘difficult,’ in turn corresponding to a lack of opportunities and a stagnating career, despite Beth freely acknowledging her as the more talented of them. Her abrasive personality often leads to her being ignored and discarded as soon as her lack of malleability becomes clear, these dismissals also extending to people beyond the film industry.
Dialogue repetition and image reflection suggest a duality between the pair, each embodying one of the extremes by which a woman’s personality is perceived, with her outward temperament being all that distinguishes her. With both women being young, blonde and attractive, the suggestion is that their looks are interchangeable and their dispositions are all that differentiate them, the implication furthered by several shots constructed to be purposefully unclear which of them you’re currently looking at.
However, what might sound more like a melodrama eventually morphs into a twisty psychological thriller. As the strain between the two continues to escalate, it becomes clear that whatever friendship they once had has long since decayed through mutual resentment. Punctuated by too-brief flashes of an intense altercation, the mounting tension culminates in a Lynchian third act of shifting identities and deteriorating sanity, where exactly what is going on remains ambiguous up until the final moments.
Always Shine takes a while to make its points fully clear, but the friction and tacit hostility simmering all the way makes for a slow-burning but engrossing watch.
ALWAYS SHINE / CERT: TBA / DIRECTOR: SOPHIA TAKAL / SCREENPLAY: LAWRENCE MICHAEL LEVINE / STARRING: MACKENZIE DAVIS, CAITLIN FITZGERALD, LAWRENCE MICHAEL LEVINE / RELEASE DATE: UK RELEASE TBA